Eating The Time Away

Hair buzzed close to his scalp, the only curl left is in his lip. He quietly stares at the two egg yolks looking up at him. With his one working arm and the slow determination of a ditch digger, he shovels those eggs bit by bit into his mouth. I know he’s only eating because we are watching him.

The only place skin doesn’t seem to sag over bones are his fingers. Diligently they lift the peel from the Clementine and place it on the paper towel . Sweet citrus fills the air. I notice the coppery hue of his face and I wonder if it’s from the radiation or if it’s the sunlight reflecting from the orange. “Clementines are really good. Help yourself.” I decline, but I watch as he savors each section he pops into his mouth.

“You’re coming back in two weeks, right?”

“Yes. Would you like if we bring steaks to cook out.”

“If you want, sounds good.”

Later he calls me and says for us to meet at my mom and dad’s house. He tells me he’s invited several others. I have a feeling he thinks it will be his last visit to our parent’s house.

He wants to make his special steak sauce. He says he needs rice vinegar and garlic. Mom only has apple cider vinegar and insists she has garlic which I find has petrified. He makes his wife take him to the store for the items. My guess is he needs a breather from the attention. I already know the little country store doesn’t carry the items, but he insists on going and comes back without them.

He demands fresh ground pepper. I grind about a tablespoon.

“That enough?’

“No, keep going. It takes a lot.”

I end up grinding about a quarter of a cup, and he only uses about a tablespoon. He makes do with the ingredients we have on hand but insists on preparing it himself. I want to mix it for him, but I know I must let him do this one thing. He then asks me to take peppers and onions and sauté them with a bit of his sauce. He says it’s good but doesn’t eat much.

I give him two bags of peppermint patties and the peppermint patty brownies I made for him. He asks me to put them in the trunk of the car for him.

“I’ll see you in two weeks right?”


I call him later and ask if he’d like us to bring shrimp when we come for a visit.

“That would be good. Don’t get those little ones. Or the frozen kind. Get fresh ones. The good kind.” He proceeds to tell me the “wrong” kind that my sister picked up at the store. He tells me to never buy the frozen bags that come from Thailand or somewhere like that. I assure him we will make a trip to North Carolina to get them right off the boat.

He is sleeping hunched over in his recliner, and I don’t want to wake him. He has aged twenty years in a mere two weeks. His arms and legs have withered him to a stick figure. When he wakes, his wife calls me in to see him as she dresses him. I watch this scene and think he must have played this out as a small child with my mother. My heart is breaking. I hold my tears until I can walk out of the room. Later he shuffles with his cane in one hand and the assistance of his wife into the kitchen.

As we are cooking the shrimp, he decides he really wants cevichi. We know it takes a few days for the shrimp to cure , nor do they don’t have all of the ingredients. I give someone the money for the items and ask that they make it for him later. We put aside some shrimp for the ceviche.

He admires the beauty of the shrimp and talks about how good the ceviche is going to be. He says he’s too full to eat any shrimp but promises he will eat some later. I tell him I brought apple crisp cake.

“That’s my favorite.”

“I didn’t know that. It’s my favorite, too. And also Peggy’s.”

“I hope it’s as good as Mamas.”

“I don’t cook as well as her, but it is her recipe.”

“Ok. Then, it should be fine.” He proceeds to tell me that one of our sisters is a good cook and the other is a better one. I realize I’ve never cooked a full meal for my brother.

We sit outside and watch the clouds drift through the sky. We talk about food. We talk about God. I watch memory cloud his face from time to time as we talk about childhood and old times. Sometimes he lights up. I don’t know if it’s the sun or the memories that make his face shine. We never talk of the inevitable. Death. He tries to go there, but I always change the subject. Am I cheating him or myself by doing this?

So much is lost in two week intervals. He gets worse and worse each time. He asks if I’ll be back in two weeks. I know this is the last time I will see my brother alive, still I promise I will be back in two weeks. And I am, but for his funeral.

I honestly don’t know if it was my brother or myself who chose to revolve our last visits around food. Was it an undetermined comfort of times gone by or did we merely choose the only familiar way to cope?

Morsel by morsel, we chew our food all the while time eats us moment by moment.

Sprite’s Keeper: Food

67 thoughts on “Eating The Time Away

  1. You’ve done a beautiful job of mixing feeling with flavors, Suzi, and I can totally relate as platters of food accompany the good and bad experiences in life on the Italian side of my family.

    I hope the telling of these stories helps you work through your grief.

  2. My eyes are welling up something awful right now. Food and family together are a comforting thing so I can see why that was the centerpiece of those visits. My heart aches for you right now.

  3. I can feel your pain in this one, Suzi. How fortunate you are that y’all had so many good times together and that your final parting was filled with love. Your brother must be looking down and smiling right about now!

  4. OMG…I had a HUGE lump in my throat reading this, Suzi.

    Truly, is was beautifully written.

    Thank you, my friend, for sharing.


    P.S. I love the way you write.

  5. This is heartbreaking and poignant. Your description takes me right there. What a lovely tribute. I am glad you are able to write about it. I hope doing so will help you heal. Your words are a gift to the rest of us.

  6. Ok, you got me bawling again….taking me back there too. Yes, he didn’t let me forget that I got the wrong shrimp but I got all they had! He was VERY particular about his food. Like how he micromanaged my making his mashed potatoes for him so they’d be just like he remembered Mama making them even though she hadn’t made them that way in years. Breaks my heart every time I think of how thin an dold he looked there at the end. But he still never faltered. Thanks for your spin on this!

    • Even though you bought the wron shrimp, you were the sister who cooked best! Today was one of those days the finality of it hit me, but felt better after I got it out, words and tears. Love you.

      • I have those days too. I thought you had said he thought I cooked better which pleased me to no end! I’m just glad he’d eat anything at that point. Love you too!

  7. I don’t know how you had the strength to write this piece; thanks for sharing it; very heart-tugging. I agree with Carl that food is communial. No matter how sick my mother was, we always found a way to seat her at the dinner table with us. “Breaking bread” with those you love is a bonding experience, so it makes sense to me that sharing meals together, that sustain our life here on Earth, would be chosen as a way to come together and think back on good times. In the end when my mom passed away, one of the worst moments for me was when the nurse explained why my mom wouldn’t take any water. “She doesn’t need it anymore,” she said. Then it hit me…and I cried. I share a tear with you tonight, my friend.

  8. This was beautiful, yet heartbreaking. Food served a purpose – it kept your hands and minds busy so you could enjoy your time together instead of dwelling on the inevitable. It also gave you happy memories that you may not otherwise have had during this period.

    • I don’t think he cooked much other than steak and shrimp, but he had discriminating tastes and specifications of how he wanted his food cooked. Funny though we didn’t know this until he became ill and started giving directions to those in the kitchen!

  9. I’m so sorry about your brother. I like associating certain foods with family members. The aunt I recently lost always made the best chocolate-covered peanut butter balls for Christmas.

  10. Food binds us in unexpected ways. I’m sorry for your loss. While I can’t say that time heals all wounds I can say that it fades them with joy remembered.

  11. Suzi, I’m so sorry for what your brother, you and your family are going through. There are no answers for why some have to suffer. My mother just lost her brother to Amyloidosis Tuesday night, and we’ve watched as he went downhill for months. You and your family will remain in my thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.

  12. Suzicate, this was beautiful. I’m so sorry you lost your brother, but it sounds like you really made the most of the time you had with him. Sometimes, I think we turn to food to keep our hands and our mouths busy when we don’t know what to say, or how to say it.

  13. Greatly written but I wish you didn’t have the story to tell. I’m so sorry about your brother. You’re a great sister and I’m glad you guys had those last conversations.

  14. This is one of the most moving blog posts I have ever read, and so well written. I was surfing the food spins and came upon your post. I am so sorry for the loss of your brother. You have written a beautiful piece and it is a lovely tribute to him.

  15. Such a poignant post, Suzicate. It touched my heart very deeply. So sorry about your bother’s death. You shouldn’t have had to experience this for many more years. It saddens me when people die too young.

  16. Oh, wow, this is such an amazingly bittersweet post. I am so sorry about your brother dying. It just seems so unfair. Beautiful writing, though.

  17. Wow. I imagine there are days when it is not as difficult and days when it suffocates you.

    I sense you write when you are feeling it the most.

    I believe that our society makes food a very social thing. We gather to eat. The families I know gather to eat. Even when it is an occasion or celebration there is a meal involved. A gathering based around food. This could be a sense of comfort. It is wonderful you were able to bring him such comfort in his final days. Even if he ate little or none, I sense the comfort was more than can be measured.

    Thank you for sharing with us your painful last visits with Monte. I hope in addition to the therapy provided by writing, all the love you receive back from us — your readers — helps bring you the peace when it wanes.

    Hugs to you my friend.

  18. Moving and disturbing.
    Like you, I have ducked skittishly away from the subject of death when raised by relatives on their way out. Since, I have wished I had had the courage not to. When you think about it, many a visitor to the terminally ill has predeceased that person through accident or heart attack or whatever. The only difference is that we don’t know how close or otherwise we may be, while the terminally ill have a pretty good idea.

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